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Blairsville Municipal Authority holds line on rates for 2015

Blairsville Municipal Authority customers will not have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for utility and garbage collection services this year as the authority board has adopted 2015 budgets that hold the line on basic fees.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the board approved water, sewer and refuse budgets respectively totaling $692,555, $1,244,802 and $479,793.

“While our operating costs have gone up, we've been able to efficiently run the Blairsville Municipal Authority with no rate increase to our ratepayers,” said authority Treasurer Michael Ritts.

“Not wanting to pass on a price increase at this time,” he said, the authority will draw upon its fund reserve in order to balance each of the three budgets. The board could not immediately provide a total for the reserve amount expected to remain untouched.

Ritts said annual audits show revenues have gone down while expenses have gone up in each of the past three to four years.

Authority officials attributed a shortfall in refuse revenues from “current sales” in part to an increase in vacant housing units in the community. Ritts noted the number of households is now at about 1,775, representing a decrease of roughly 100 households over the last seven years.

Meanwhile, Ritts said the authority has taken steps to streamline the sewer budget, to “cut down on the budgeted expenses we had every year that weren't being spent, so we will not have to take as much out of our savings as we have.”

Last year, he noted, the authority budgeted a total of $11,500 in five separate line items — one for each of five sewage pump stations — but spent just a little over $2,200. This year, the budget includes one combined line item for all the pump stations, earmarked at $5,500. “Typically, that's what we've been spending,” Ritts said.

The authority will need to draw further on its fund reserve if it moves forward with addressing water infiltration of a sanitary sewer line along Sulphur Run in the northwest section of Blairsville, as the proposed project was not included in the 2015 budget.

The board directed BMA Executive Director Ron Hood to obtain price quotes for different project options — including sealing the line either by inserting a liner or spraying material on to the inner surface of the pipe.

“It does reduce the diameter of your pipe by a half inch,” Hood said of the process.

“Whatever we lose in diameter, we gain in velocity,” board member Ken Smith said, noting the process would create a smooth surface inside the corrugated pipe.

BMA is under pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection to address a handful of areas of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), where storm water infiltrates sanitary sewer lines and, during periods of heavy precipitation, can result in wastewater bypassing the authority's sewage treatment plant.

Authority members suggested that sealing the Sulphur Run sewer line could help alleviate overflows that occur at the nearby main pump station.

“It seems the more-bang-for-our-buck would be Sulphur Run,” said board member Justin Fridley.

Hood suggested, rather than attempting to seal all 1,700 feet of line along the stream at one time, the authority start out with a segment served by two manholes.

Chairman Terry DiBiase noted the authority has video footage taken by inserting a camera in the line. He indicated that sealing the line likely would be less costly than trying to replace it, since it would avoid having to excavate in a flood plain zone that is regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

BMA officials cited Martha Street as another area where water infiltration of the sanitary sewer system and overflow is a problem.

Smith said video inspection of a sanitary sewer leading to that area indicates the authority's line is in “decent” shape, but individual lateral lines delivering wastewater from adjacent residents' homes are not.

Board members debated whether replacing the authority sewer line would be of any help in reducing infiltration without also asking affected homeowners to address the lateral lines.

“If we're not going to make anybody replace the laterals, we can't do it,” Fridley argued, adding, “We're not forcing anybody to change their laterals. That's not part of the equation.”

“It's a no-win situation,” Hood observed.

The BMA in August 2013 issued a letter asking all residents whose roof downspouts drained into the sanitary sewer to remove them. Hood noted that has been done in the area in question affecting Martha Street, but it has yet to be established whether footer drains in any adjacent homes are connected to the sewer.

Smith suggested asking permission from property owners to conduct a camera inspection from inside each home to “get an idea what's going into that lateral.” He stressed that the authority would not be “doing any physical work on that line” and would not “touch anything inside that property.”

Fridley also wondered whether the authority could stem overflows by addressing any leaky manholes in Blairsville.

BMA officials reviewed data from sewage flow meters recently installed at selected locations but questioned some of the readings. Hood said more time is needed, to have three months worth of readings to compare.

Board members noted “ragging” continues to be a problem at the sewage treatment plant. The problem occurs when residents flush items other than toilet paper — items such as tampons, incontinence products and supposedly “flushable” wipes that don't break down well and gather into rag-like debris that clogs equipment at the plant.

While the authority issued an advisory to customers, listing items that shouldn't be flushed, Smith said, “We're going to have to find a solution to deal with it. This stuff is getting caught in the digesters... We're stopping operations twice a week just to clean the pumps out.”

He suggested the authority look into installing a device that would chop up rag-like material that arrives at the treatment plant.

Addressing a needed update of the authority's water treatment plant, board members came to a consensus that they should pursue rehabilitation of the facility's existing system rather than replacing it with new technology.

“There's nothing wrong with the technology we're using now,” Smith said of the plant's chemical feed system. But he noted it was installed in 1992 and is nearing the end of its life cycle.

“I think it's worked well,” DiBiase said, while acknowledging, “It may not be the newest technology.”

Hood said it could cost $9,000 to conduct a feasibility study of new plant technology.

Smith said a rehab of the plant's existing equipment, supplied by WesTech of Salt Lake City, would amount to little more than replacement of parts.

“Let's get the price and arrange the financing, and let's get this project done,” Smith said.


Article from Trib Live